How Long is a PhD Thesis?

If you look for an answer to the question, how long is a PhD thesis, you will notice that there is a lot of contradictory information on the internet because there is no one-size-fits-all answer for PhD students. Each university sets its maximum and minimum word count limits for PhD students.

PhD. Thesis Word Count

So how many words is a Ph.D. thesis? At UWS London, your PhD thesis should not typically exceed 40,000 words for PhD students studying Mathematics, Technology, Science, and Engineering – this excludes ancillary data. For PhD students studying in all other fields, a PhD thesis should not exceed 80,000 words.

How Many Pages is a PhD Thesis?

80,000 words should equate to around 350 pages, depending on how many photographs, tables, and figures are included. When you submit your thesis, you must also submit a statement of length. This statement confirms your thesis doesn’t exceed the word limit that has been set by your PhD committee. 

As for the minimum word limits, your PhD thesis should be near the maximum limit; however, it should never exceed it. The word limit includes the contents page and the appendices, excluding the acknowledgements, the abstract, the footnotes, the references, the bibliography, abbreviations, the glossary, and any notes made on translations.

How Flexible Are PhD Limits of Length?

All limits of length are set by your university degree committee. If, for any reason, you need to increase the specified word limit set by your university for your field of study, you will need to make a written request for permission to go above the set word count. You will also need to apply for permission to extend the word count of your thesis if you need to increase your word limit following your viva after the corrections are made.

How to Structure Your PhD Thesis

Spending time thinking about the structure of your thesis will always be time well-spent. To start the structuring process, organise the material you have already drafted into distinct chapters. Your thesis should read as a continuous story you are trying to write. What works well for some PhD candidates while structuring their thesis works less for others; you can try discussing the structure with someone with a background in your field of study, using mind-mapping techniques, creating a storyboard, using index cards, or placing post-it notes on a whiteboard. 

PhD structures can vary by field; however, they are commonly structured in the following way: 

  1. The title page 
  2. Abstract 
  3. Acknowledgements 
  4. Content page or pages
  5. Introduction 
  6. A literature review (which may have already been covered in the introduction)
  7. Materials, sources and methods – unless these differ for each chapter 
  8. Themed topic chapters 
  9. Results 
  10. Findings 
  11. Conclusion
  12. Publications – if necessary 
  13. References 
  14. Appendices 

Once you have sketched out a rough structure, many PhD students find it beneficial to assign a word count for each chapter and section. However, you should always remain flexible between the sections and chapters until you have a final draft. If after you have your final draft, you find that you have exceeded the specified word count, you will likely find that you can cut out unnecessary words during the editing process. In terms of thesis writing, PhD candidates typically have a planned writing approach or a generative writing approach.

Planned Writers

For planned writers, it may be helpful to define sections under each chapter and break down sub-sections to paragraph by paragraph level. With this method, you can work methodically through each section and put a tick mark next to completed tasks on your PhD thesis plan.

Generative Writers

For generative writers, it is typically easier to put ideas down on paper before arranging and organising them. If you use this approach, you will need to ensure you have imposed a structure afterwards; by summarising each paragraph or subsection as bullet points to create an overview of the structure. Re-ordering the sections or subsections may be required to strengthen the cohesion of your writing, and additional sub-headings may have to be written to make your thesis flow better. For both planned writers and generative writers, it is crucial to keep reviewing your thesis and structure as your writing and research develops. Amendments are a natural part of the process as you become aware of what your PhD thesis needs to include to demonstrate your understanding and contribution to your field of study.

PhD Writing Tips

After years of research and study, when it is finally time to start writing the PhD thesis, many candidates can feel overwhelmed by the task and the word count, which is significantly higher than what they encountered while writing their undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations. The good news is that there is no need to be daunted by the process. By spending a fraction of your research time on finding ways to maximise your chances of success, by the time you submit your PhD thesis, you will feel confident in how you have showcased your creative knowledge and your contribution to your field of study. Below, we have outlined some tips you can follow to make the writing-up stage as stress-free as possible.

1. Clear Exposition is Key

Though wordcount is important, PhD candidates should pay mind to plenty more than their thesis wordcount when drafting and structuring. Writing as concisely as possible with adequate and clear exposition is just as important for PhD candidates aiming for no corrections or minor corrections following their PhD viva.

2. Trust in the Process

Remember that even the most experienced and eloquent writers, in academia or otherwise, never hit the ground running and knock it out of the park with the first draft. As the adage goes, you can’t edit a blank page; even if you start with rough bullet points that outline your subsections, these can be built on and around until you have fully mind-mapped your thesis. In time, your thesis will take clear and concise form; there is no use trying to stride over the finishing line before you have entered the race! Rewriting and editing is never a sign of failure or literary inadequacy; many writers spend most of the writing process editing their work!

3. Don’t Be Shy Asking Your Supervisor for Help

By the time you have reached the writing-up stage as a PhD candidate, you will have already leaned on your PhD supervisor to flesh out your ideas and develop your creative knowledge. Your supervisor may not be able to map or write your thesis for you, but they can provide invaluably helpful tips on structuring your thesis. Never replace online advice for the guidance your PhD supervisor can offer you! To allow your supervisor to help, create rough drafts that you can bring to your meetings; in time, you can refine them as the writing-up stage approaches.

4. Style It Out with Flair

Contrary to popular belief, academic writing doesn’t need to be dry. While the amount of flair you can put into your work will vary with respect to your field of study, there is nothing to say that you can’t use your voice – to an extent. As long as your PhD reads clearly and concisely and proves you are worthy of your doctorate title, you will impress your examiners in your viva!

5. Refrain from Using Passive Words and Phrases

By using active wording in your thesis instead of passive phrases, you can simplify your work and make it read with more authority and conviction. To write actively instead of passively, always allow the subject in the sentence to act on the target. For example, a passive phrase would be “The philosophical discourse was changed by Foucault. The active equivalent of that phrase would be, “Foucault changed the political discourse”. It takes time to develop these habits; however, online tools, such as Grammarly, can help you to notice when you are writing passively or using excessive and unnecessary words.

6. Steer Clear from Chronological Writing

Even though your thesis plan sets a roadmap of what needs to be completed, chronological writing can ultimately kill your creativity. Always write when the material or epiphanies are fresh in the mind – if you save them for later, there is a chance that they could be forgotten, or they may lose their substance or contextual importance. During the writing-up stage, some research could be more pertinent to chapters you have not turned to yet. Remember you will always return to each section later to ensure your full thesis is coherent.

Looking to find out how long the PhD will take to complete? Whether you want to complete it in the UK full-time or part-time; it is a big commitment, which shouldn’t be taken lightly. The gratification may not be immediate, but the rewards can be lifelong when considering the professional careers that are more accessible for PhD holders, the increased earning potential and the sense of satisfaction that comes with creating unique knowledge and gaining a title only a minute fraction of the global population will only acquire.

For More Support and Information

The information outlined in this article will give you plenty of clues on how to construct your thesis and which parameters you should use while structuring and drafting it. However, your PhD supervisor will be in the best position to inform you of the limits of length and stylistic requirements for your particular field of study. At UWS London, all our PhD supervisors are committed to ensuring all our PhD candidates receive the support, information, and guidance required for their writing-up stage and PhD Viva to run as smoothly as possible.



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